“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,
Nothing is going to get better. It's not.”
-Dr. Suess, The Lorax

Friday, July 29, 2011

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggity-Jig

The week after returning home from Haiti is my time for reflection; processing what I saw and felt, even smelled.  Smelled?  Let me explain that one briefly.  In Haiti, you experience a plethora of odors.  One moment you are inhaling the tropical aromas of ferns and flowers, the next moment your nostrils are infiltrated by some unknown ickiness.  Is that sewage?  Or something dead?  Oh, good, I smell the flowers again.  ((Sigh of relief))   The combo of dust, diesel exhaust, smoldering garbage, and odors from the general wet muck that lines the streets will allow you to take home a free sample of the essence of Haiti’s not-so-pretty side.   Actually, it’s downright awful.  A ride in the back of a truck through Port-au-Prince will assure that you will yearn for a shower as soon as possible.  From the comfort of my home in Kentucky, a swab of a Q-tip revealed that some of Haiti, in the form of black gunk, had hitchhiked home with me in the creases of my ear cartilage.  That makes a girl feel oh-so pretty. 
Now onto the subject of what I saw and felt.  I can’t possibly put it all into words; there’s just no way.  Some things you just have to experience for yourself to “get it.”  But I’ll try my best just for you, especially since you’re going to the trouble of reading this.  Thanks, by the way! 
Sadness.  I saw some real, raw sadness.  It made me sad.  (Note: “sad” is a very inadequate word, but let’s just roll with it.)  It made me say under my breath, “I am so sorry.  I am sorry you have to go through this.  I am sorry I can’t just make it all better.”  It made me pray for God’s mercy.  Come, Lord Jesus, come.  No magic wand or genie in a bottle will fix the hurt and suffering in Haiti.  At best, healing and improvement will come very, very slowly.  But some things will never go away.  Like the grief of losing a child or losing a mother.  Only God’s mercy will ease the pain in the aching hearts I saw.  I have no doubt that God can do anything, including bring Haiti and her people out of despair.  But I don’t know or understand God’s plan.  In His time, in His way.  Father knows best.  In the meanwhile, my best tool is prayer.  And so I will pray.
One afternoon in particular, the sadness made my heart ache so much that I just had to escape to a quiet place to grieve for a few minutes. That morning, a mother had made the heart-breaking decision that she had no other choice but to give away her child.  It was agony for her, clearly.  Some of the other volunteers passed her walking down the dusty, rocky road with her baby in her arms, tears streaming down her face.  She was, in fact, walking to GLA to find a place of hope for her frail baby girl.  Those were tears of grief and acceptance of what she must do in order for this child she so loved to survive.  Survival meant she must say good-bye.  So unfair.  So painful.  At home, she had more children, more mouths to feed.  This baby girl had special needs, needs which she was incapable of satisfying.  Best-case scenarios and healthy babies are difficult enough to provide for in Haiti.  Add some hard stuff to the equation and you’ve got a situation that is too overwhelming, even for a mother that dearly loves her child.  This mother, frail herself, loved her baby so much that she was willing to give her away.  Her hope for her baby’s future, a hope for improved health and a fed belly, a hope for education and a family that could give her baby things that she never could (as in: a roof overhead, medicine, clothing, etc.), this is what gave her the strength to walk this most painful path.  Just minutes before she said good-bye to her little girl, I passed her in the waiting area.  The mother, I’m guessing to be in her mid- 40’s (which is almost elderly, in Haitian statistics), was attempting to breast-feed one last time.  Next to her baby’s mouth, she held her shriveled breast, void of life-giving milk.  At four months old, her baby weighed only seven pounds.  Downs Syndrome had impaired the little girl’s ability to suck and swallow well.  Death was not far from her little body.  In the seconds as I walked by, a snap-shot of the mother’s face was ingrained into my memory.  Absolute sorrow.  Pain that only a Savior can ease.
Later in the day, I watched a new boy in the nursery struggle with the pain that was ripping him apart inside.  Just a few days earlier, his family said good-bye to him.  I don’t know his story, but does it really matter?  I asked the head nurse if he was experiencing physical discomfort from finally receiving nutrition after his starving body had gone without enough food for so long.  Was this the reason why he flailed his legs and cried in pain?  No, was my answer.  His heart just hurts that much, that intensely.  He misses his mother. 
I am so sorry, little one.  I am sorry that you are going through this pain.  I wish I could take it away.  I wish you could pour it out into me and I would carry it for you.  No child should have to suffer such heartache.  It isn’t fair. 
Jesus, have mercy.
In order to not end on such a dismal note, let me share this with you.  GLA is hope, with an incredible staff that is divinely blessed with the ability to nurse these children back to physical and emotional health.  A look around the nursery will show you this fact.  After a time of transition has passed, the kids begin to smile and play.  Bonding with their nannies takes place.  Bellies are fed, bottoms are cleaned, and some sense of normalcy is established.  Medication is administered, even for the deworming that is necessary.  (Yes, worms in the gut.  Such is life in Haiti.)  For those especially fragile, round-the-clock nurses work to mend sickly bodies.  And with God’s grace, most often, they are healed.  Sometimes He calls His angels home, despite the staff’s best efforts.  But His hand is holding each and every child that enters through the GLA gate.  Our Lord is in this place.  On a mountainside in Haiti, a light shines, giving hope of life.  Hope because of the one true God.  GLA – God’s Littlest Angels – where hope in Jesus gives more than life in this messed up, cruel world.  Through Him, a perfect life awaits.  A life where no tear will fall, no pain exists.  A life that is never-ending. 
Jesus.  That is the life-change that GLA ultimately offers.  Everything within the GLA walls is done in His name, for His glory.         
**Note:  GLA goes to great effort to keep families together.  The giving up of a child is never a sweet solution, but sometimes, it is the only choice.  We are thankful for the lengths that GLA goes to to ensure that the decision is indeed correct for each child that is accepted into their care and put up for adoption.  The child’s best interest is certainly followed.  Not all children are accepted into GLA, for a number of different and complicated reasons.  Some children are brought into GLA for medical purposes only; when their health is better, they are reunited with their family.  GLA maintains a reputation throughout the country of a place where miracle healings occur.   It is with great discernment and prayer, and of course, extraordinary favor of God, that GLA is so successful…in a land where everything is incredibly hard.  

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

New Appreciation

Ever notice how easy it is to be critical of someone other than yourself?  Well, actually, no….most folks don’t realize how easy it is.  Most folks don’t realize how much they criticize others.  That is, until they have the chance to walk in someone else’s shoes.  (Ouch!)
I am one of those folks.  And today I changed my perspective.   I walked in someone else’s shoes….or perhaps I should say, someone else’s flip-flops.  Thank you, Lord, for humility.   I needed a good dose of it.  Don’t we all? 
This is me:  a typical American.   What does that mean, in this context, at least?  Well, it means I am used to things being up to a certain standard (my standard).  Things should be done a certain way (my way).  Things should be done in a certain timeframe (my timeframe). 
I think you get the point.  And I think I’m pretty typical.  We Americans tend to believe that everything in  our little world…no matter where in the world we happen to be on any given day….should go according to the way we expect them to go.  Even if those expectations are unreasonable.  Shallow.  Short-sighted.  Uneducated.  Uninformed.  Ignorant.  Irrational.  Selfish. 
Note to self:  Get over it.  (And I invite others to do the same.)
I’m guessing you are wondering how I got my dose of humility today.  Well, here’s the scoop:
This morning there was a funeral for a long-time beloved staff member of GLA that passed away last week.  In order for the staff and all the nannies to be able to attend, someone had to take care of the babies, obviously.  (What?  Taking 40-something babies to a funeral doesn’t sound like a good idea?)  A solution was put into place: the volunteers would cover the nursery during the funeral.  Of course!  How hard could it be, right?  Riiiiiight…..
During my time volunteering at this orphanage (which is a top-notch orphanage, mind you), a few things have annoyed me.  Nothing major, but small annoyances gave me enough ground to grumble under my breath, justifiably,  so I thought.  And I’ve heard the grumblings of other volunteers as well.  Again, nothing extraordinary…..just a few things that didn’t fit our standards. 
You want examples, don’t you?  Of course you do.  You want the scoop.  The ugly stuff.  That’s what we like to flock to like vultures…..a big pile of nasty, stinky, ugly grumblings.  Grumblings that are usually worth their weight in poop.  And around here, poop just happens to be one category of grumblings.   When you are in a place that is home to over 40 babies….let’s just say, there’s plenty of poop to go around.
Dried snot and boogers as big as the nostrils they are nestled in.  Poopy diapers (bonus if oozing up the back or down the leg) that have obviously been plastered to a tiny bottom for a while.   Bottle sharing (or more likely, bottle swiping).  Outfits that don’t quite fit, or are stained or have a hole.  Crying babies.  Plentiful supply of crying babies.
Sound horrid?  Not a place you would even consider leaving your child at?  Just awful!  Tsk, tsk. 
Well, folks, get over it.
This morning, my fellow volunteers and I were in charge of the babies for a few hours.  To be accurate, we didn’t even have to tend to the tiniest and frailest babies, as they were tended to by their nurse.  And to be honest, we had one Haitian nurse in with us to help us out with bottle-making. 
So how’d it go?  How much more awesome were we at maintaining order and getting the job done “the way it should be”?  <Insert sheepish laugh here.>
Yeah, it wasn’t pretty.  We managed, but not gracefully.  We did it, but we were exhausted.  A few moments of panic/exasperation/frustration and a lot of clock-checking, wondering how long funerals last in Haiti. 
I lost count as to how many poopy diapers I changed, and the other volunteers were changing them as well.  Here’s how it went:
As soon as one bottom was clean, another was primed for changing.   Gross, stinky poop that, in no time flat, often had seeped through to the clothes.  Clean the bottom and then search for an outfit that will fit this kid.  Maybe this one will work?  Nope, try again.  Boogers?  No time for that….the next kid is in line for a changing.  Where did your bottle go, little guy?  Why does that kid have two bottles?  I guess I’ll take one of them and give it to you.  Problem solved…..well enough, at least.  Why is there a diaper in the floor?  Someone must have stripped naked, because here’s a puddle of pee.  Butt check!  After 15 bottoms patted, the naked one is discovered.  Sneaky, aren’t you?!  Now, where did my little guy go that had boogers?  Wait, which one was it?  I forgot.  Oh well, I’ll catch up with those boogers eventually.  Right now I need to go stop that kid from climbing on the furniture and nose-diving onto the ceramic tile.  Too late.  Thank goodness he’s tough.  No blood, no worries.  Turn around to see four crying babies at my feet, demanding my attention.  I sit on the floor to comfort them.  A shoving match for the prime lap seat begins.  More crying.  And someone smells gross…but who is it?  I don’t even want to look.  I don’t want to change another one…the smell of the last one is still stuck in my nose.  Oh, wait – it’s her.  I can tell because she just left a poopy smudge on my lap when she stood up.  Stand up to take her to the changing room, and the other six (more kids joined our party) now scream in protest of me leaving them.  I step over them, but one has a death-grip on my ankle.  I drag him a few feet across the floor until I manage to wiggle free, all the while holding stinky butt.  Stinky butt is joyfully waving “Good-bye!” as we head out of the room.  Then with disappointment of entering the changing room, instead of going to the play balcony, her own protest begins.  I try not to let poop smear all over me.   Talking to her in my happy voice, trying not to gag as I remove the poop bomb, she coughs in my face.  Awesome.  Guess that cold is why she has half-inch thick boogers hanging out of her nose.  But I only have two hands, I’m up to my elbows in poop, and someone is in the other room asking me a question.   Boogers can wait.
How do those amazing nannies do it?  Bless their underappreciated souls.  All day, every day, this is what they do.  And they do it with grace and love, all while frequently being critiqued and looked down upon by volunteers that have no idea how difficult a job they have.   
I have gotten over it.  And to all you future volunteers:  heads up.  Get over it before you even get on that plane to come to Haiti. 
GLA nannies rock.  And they love these kids.  Proof?  Happy, content orphans. 
A stinky diaper or a crusty nose DOES NOT outweigh the value of the love and nurturing given in this place.  Now I shall put back on my flip-flops and drag my exhausted body out of the nursery and get a strong cup of coffee. 
Humility.  I highly recommend it.   And a really thorough hand washing.  

Thursday, July 14, 2011

My new little friend

He arrived at GLA just a couple of weeks ago.  He has been sick, but is now feeling better and has been cleared to go to the balcony for play time.  I have the privilege of being assigned as his first volunteer. 
James.  Tiny James.  He’s nearly a year old, but his body’s size doesn’t reflect his age.  I’m obsessed with his little legs.  With knees wider than his thighs, I can’t help myself but to rub the soft, loose skin on his legs.  I wonder how long it will take to get some meat on his bones.  Not long, I’m guessing. 
Wide-eyed with a meek personality, he is a Matthew 25:40 example.  The least of the least of these, even.  
But James has hope.  God brought him to GLA just in time.  The viciousness of poverty has not destroyed this child.  His belly will be fed, his body will grow.  He will receive the medicine he needs to be healthy.  Love and affection will flood his heart and mind; in this place of respite he will thrive.  Then one day, the plan that God has for him will come to fruition.  James will go to his new home where he will have abundant opportunities.  But he will know the precious place he came from, a land that will continue to fight against the dark forces. 
For the time being, he will live in this place – where the love of Jesus is shown in word and deed.       

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


Why in the World Would We Go (back) to Haiti
We went to Haiti.  Loved it. 
Came home.  Missed it.  Missed it a lot. 
After two weeks of being home, we decided to try to go back to GLA before summer’s end.  This time, with our kids.  If it was in God’s plan, He would make it all work out, even on a short notice.  He did.  We had four weeks to get our ducks in a row before we headed back.  Bri needed a passport.  Both kids needed some travel shots.  Plane tickets were still available, though barely.  So it was on: round two in Haiti…this time with kids.  For two weeks.  This will either be a huge blessing in our lives….or a major catastrophe.  But God is leading us, so I trust His judgment over mine. 
I know it must seem crazy that we wanted to return so soon.  I can’t explain our feelings about this in a way that anyone could possibly comprehend it to the degree that we were feeling it.  We didn’t just miss the kids and the awesome red beans and rice.  We didn’t just ache for being in a land with no fast food restaurants or Wal-Mart.  We aren’t even that big of adrenaline junkies that we are so desperate for adventure.  If I could put it into words, I would.  Suffice it to say, Haiti is in our blood and we were having major withdraws. 
We are addicts. 
We love the high of seeing God at work in a raw, miraculous way.  We love being around His servants who humbly serve the least of the least.  And we love being away from all our typical daily things that don’t mean a hill of beans to go serve in a place that is changing lives. 
Lesson I learned a few years ago from Experiencing God Bible study:  Find where God is at work, and join Him.
Well, folks….there’s no doubt that He is at work in Haiti. 
And so, my story continues……….

Saturday, July 9, 2011

My notes from Haiti

Why in the World Would We Go (back) to Haiti

In case you missed it, here are the links to the notes I posted during our week stay in Haiti in May.  That was prior to my expert bloggingness, so note form on Facebook was the best way for me to share then.  How lame, right?  I'm so communications savvy these days....ppshhh!

Here's what I said on Tuesday.

And then on Wednesday.

Then I started getting so many thoughts and emotions in my head, it became more difficult to sort them out quickly enough to write logically about daily. 

Finally on Saturday, I was able to spill my guts in somewhat of an orderly fashion. 

Did I say I'm savvy?  I was kidding.  In fact, I hope these links work.  If they don't, well....sorry about that! 

Next: Back to Life....Back to Reality....

Part 6: Home away from home

Why in the World Would We Go (back) to Haiti
Culture shock?  You bet.  For the first few hours after we arrived at GLA, I was a bit like a zombie.  It’s a little embarrassing, really.  I thought I’d be tougher and cooler than that, but the combination of sleep deprivation and being a newbie to Haiti took its toll on me that day.  Thankfully by the next morning, I was adjusting well and ready to roll.  Brennon and I began our routine for the next few days – we grabbed some coffee (Haitian coffee is the bomb) and headed our separate ways.  I grabbed my mug and went upstairs to start my day working with my assigned kids.  Brennon would join John and his sidekick Gus, a funny little wiener dog, and they would head up to Fort Jacques for a day of work.  Manly manual labor stuff….. and no dirty diapers to change.    
Fort Jacques is a community a few miles up and across the mountain that will be home to the future GLA facility.  I got the opportunity to visit Fort Jacques a couple of times during our stay.  It’s difficult to describe the beauty and atmosphere there with mere words.  In a nutshell: a few acres surrounded by a magnificent handmade mason fence, sitting atop a high mountain overlooking Port-au-Prince.  Lush green pine trees at the top of the property and a bountiful garden at its base.  Sandstone oozing out of every inch of the land – all the stone for the fence and buildings being constructed has come from the property itself.  Very self-sufficient.  The view, oh my, the view.  On a clear night, when no clouds have rolled in below the property, the view of Port-au-Prince is stunning.  The flickering of lights below from the city is a quiet reminder that in the valley are millions of people.  Now mind you, for a city nestled in a valley that holds so many people, the nighttime glow of light representing homes and activity is fairly dim. 
As I stood there on that mountainside with my husband, a few feet away from an occasionally mooing cow (because it’s Haiti…I have no idea yet as to why there’s a cow there), with a gentle breeze blowing, the flickering of the city lights below mesmerized me.  The realization of why the lights were so dim weighed heavily inside me.  Just a few miles away were thousands and thousands of people living in tent cities, where they have lived and fought for survival for more than a year since the earth so violently shook.  Gazing down upon that city, my heart further broke for the Haitian people.       
Then my focus came back to the land I was standing on.  As I looked around the property, I imagined what it would one day be like.  This very land will, Lord willing, be a temporary home to many Haitian children.  A place of respite from such intense suffering.  A place where bellies will not swell from hunger.  A place where medicine will readily be available.  A place where each child has a warm bed that is protected from nature’s elements.  A place where not only will sweet little bodies be fed, but minds and hearts will, too.  Love.  So much love will live on this mountain.  Smiles.  Laughter.  Hope for the future.  Broken hearts will be comforted.  Each child that enters through the gate will soon learn that he/she has value.  Not forgotten, not forsaken.  That no matter what circumstances brought him/her here, that child is loved and treasured by God.  Here on this mountain, so close to the stars, children will learn who Jesus is.                  
Oh, how I don’t want to miss being a part of such a beautiful thing.  Standing on a mountain in a foreign land, so far from all my usual comforts and familiarities, I felt strangely..…peacefully…..at home.